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LIVE from the NYPL: MARK SALZMAN: An Atheist in Free Fall


Author Mark Salzman (Iron and Silk, The Soloist, Lying Awake), became a stay-at-home parent in 2001.

Eight years and three failed book manuscripts later, he had a nervous breakdown. He joins LIVE to tell a sad story with a happy ending and to explore:

•What kind of person gets panic attacks when he meditates?

•Can an atheist have a mystical experience?

•Is free will a necessary illusion?

•Do dogs bark on purpose?

•Where does faith fit in?

This program is sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


MARK SALZMAN is an award-winning novelist and nonfiction author who has written on a variety of subjects, from a graceful novel about a Carmelite nun’s ecstatic visions and crisis of faith to a memoir about growing up a misfit in a Connecticut suburb – clearly displaying a range that transcends genre. As a boy, all Salzman ever wanted was to be a Kung Fu master, but it was his proficiency on the cello that facilitated his acceptance to Yale at the age of 16.

He soon changed his major to Chinese language and philosophy, which took him to mainland China where he taught English for two years and studied martial arts.

He never gave up music, though, and Salzman’s cello playing appears on the soundtrack to several films, including the Academy Award-winning documentary Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien. He has also played with Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax at Lincoln Center. Salzman’s unusual combination of talents – as both a well-known author and a concert-proficient cellist – led to a feature profile about him in The New Yorker magazine. He was also recently presented with the Algonquin West Hollywood Literary Award.

Common to each of his works is a theme of how people struggle to reach an ideal but often fall short, and the quiet change that takes place in facing the discouragement and the possibility of never achieving their goal. Salzman writes with gut-wrenching honesty and unalloyed warmth, combined with a sharp sense of humor.

This program is part of series of events related to NYPL’s exhibition Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam on view in the Gottesman Exhibition Hall, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building through February 27, 2011.